Uber CEO aims to get into cheap rides in ‘Toughest Market’ India

Uber Technologies Inc. wants to quicken an expansion into the cheaper but potentially larger market for two- and three-wheeled rides in India, extending a long-running rivalry with local provider Ola.

Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi on Thursday talked about how Uber was trying out services from scooters to motorbikes in what he called his “toughest market,” providing a model for expansion in other countries. The CEO also broached the idea of bus services during an onstage conversation in Bangalore with Nandan Nilekani, the billionaire co-founder and chairman of IT services company Infosys Ltd.

Khosrowshahi is an infrequent visitor to an Asian country that represents one of his larger markets, particularly after pulling out of China and Southeast Asia. Uber just scored its first annual profit, a milestone for a company that’s at times struggled to make headway in the fast-growth markets of the region. In India, both Uber and Ola have struggled to eke out a consistent profit in a rapidly growing but price-sensitive market.

The CEO was there to mark the announcement of a potentially significant agreement with a government-supported initiative.

Uber inked a memorandum of understanding to explore joining the Open Network for Digital Commerce — one of several state-backed programs that the Modi administration established to try and standardize online transactions and finance. The US ride-hailing leader’s potential membership could boost India’s ambitions to build a complete digital infrastructure to support what it envisions will be rapid growth of the online economy.

Other key aspects of the broader effort include the national digital-identity program called Aadhaar and the Unified Payments Interface, through which banks and internet firms handle commerce. Built from the ground up with open protocols, the idea is to allow startups, domestic companies and global corporations to operate on a level playing field.

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